TV Review: Star Trek: Picard Season One

Plot: In the year 2399 retired Admiral Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is living quietly on his vineyard in France. Content to tend the grapes and write history books, Picard is nevertheless haunted by his failed mission to save millions of Romulans from the supernova that destroyed their home planet. When a mysterious woman named Dahj (Isa Briones) with connections to Data (Brent Spiner) enters his life and is subsequently murdered, Picard finds himself wrapped in a conspiracy involving artificial intelligence, the Romulan high command, and the very heart of Starfleet itself.

Review: When the last TNG film, Star Trek: Nemesis hit theaters in December 2002, I like most fans believed it to be the end of the adventures of Jean-Luc Picard. Indeed Patrick Stewart himself indicated he was tired of the character and learning Star Trek dialogue. Imagine my surprise (and delight!) when Stewart announced in August of 2018 that he would be reprising the role that helped make him famous on a new show for CBS All Access. Stewart insisted however that the new show would be vastly different from previous Star Trek television shows. An accurate statement, as Star Trek: Picard does not follow a stand-alone weekly format as TNG did. Rather one major plot is the through line for the entire first season. But the real questions are does the new format work and after nearly two decades does Stewart still have what it takes to play Picard?

For the most part the answer is a solid yes. The first season plays out like a ten hour movie, and and a well written one at that. Acclaimed writer Michael Chabon takes on a majority of the script writing duties and proves more than adept. The artificial intelligence story-line coupled with the Zhat Vash (a secret Romulan organization opposed to A.I.) delivers on multiple levels. Indeed the whole season in many ways plays out like a vast mystery, as Picard and his cohorts – cybernetics engineer Agnes (Allison Pill), former Starfleet security member Raffi (Michelle Hurd), former Starfleet officer Chris (Santiago Cabrera), and Romulan Elnor – uncover a vast conspiracy. It’s this hook that keeps you invested and proves to be the most compelling. Moreover, Patrick Stewart falls back into the role of Picard with ease, even if age has worn down some of Picard’s gravitas and commanding presence.

It’s fascinating how familiar, yet how vastly different Star Trek: Picard feels as opposed to TNG. For one there is a Hell of a lot more swearing and violence than fans may be used to. It’s jarring to hear people drop the f-bomb and have people graphically disintegrate into goo. I also liked the dynamic between Picard and Elnor, a Romulan that fills the role of a would-be son for Picard. In addition, the show presents the Borg (who play prominently into the first season) in a completely different context than we are used to. The “assimilated” are shown to be victims, which makes logical sense once you examine the situation. Star Trek: Picard examines the plight of the XBs – Borgs who are trying to re-assimilate back into society. The leader of the group is someone TNG will know well. It’s a great subplot and of course Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine shows up to stunning effect.

In addition to Seven of Nine, other familiar characters such as William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) pop in. Yet their appearance isn’t merely to check some nostalgia box. The story-line dovetails nicely into the overall narrative. It fills in some of the gaps of the intervening years between Nemesis and Picard while also playing a fundamental role in the season one conclusion. Also it was awesome just to see those three together on the screen again. I sincerely hope more TNG vets return for upcoming seasons. (Seriously give me some Worf and Geordi guys! Hell throw in Beverly Crusher while you’re at it!)

Aside from characters you know and love, I was fully invested in Star Trek: Picard‘s new characters as well. Allison Pill’s Agnes Jurati stands out as her character and arc garners some of the best development. Hurd’s Raffi is also a fully fleshed out character, someone who’s laughed out as a quack conspiracy theorist who drowns her pain in drugs. Picard’s mission serves as true redemption for her. Cabrera’s Chris shows the most range, not only having to play the Captain of the ship Picard commandeers but also several holograms on the ship. Twenty-one year old Isa Briones also shines as an organic A.I. named Soji. Soji is constantly dealing with her own identity and on a show where Patrick Stewart is the lead, Briones stands out. Harry Treadway also makes for a compelling villain as the duplicitous Romulan Narek.

Despite a strong story and excellent acting, Star Trek: Picard is far from perfect. The show feels a little too dour and pessimistic at times, which runs counter to the optimism embodied by most Star Trek shows. Additionally, Chabon and company present Starfleet and the Federation in a much more xenophobic light, which again seems at odds with the universe Gene Roddenberry created. Certain canonical elements of TNG are also abandoned in Star Trek: Picard. For example, the Romulans are presented as extremely anti-A.I. which completely contradicts the Romulan cybernetics division that is mentioned in TNG. Also it seems passing strange that the Federation would invest 10,000 ships in moving 900 million Romulans off their home planet when the Romulans already have hundreds of colonies and presumably their own resources. I could just be being the “um actually” guy here but it doesn’t make sense logically. Lastly, the ultimate treatment of Data’s character (which I won’t spoil here) fundamentally undermines the impact of his sacrifice at the end of Star Trek: Nemesis. It’s a story choice that is sure to piss off a lot of Star Trek fans and while I wasn’t enraged about it, I certainly have complex feelings regarding the decision.

Overall, I found Star Trek: Picard thoroughly enjoyable. It was great to not only revisit this character and this universe, but to be introduced to new characters and a compelling story. I’m thoroughly looking forward to the show’s future. Here’s hoping season two warps to new heights and brings back familiar characters we love. If you will excuse the pun, there’s plenty of room for the show-runners behind Star Trek: Picard to find the best of both worlds.

My rating System:

0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
3 Bad
4 Sub Par
5 Average
6 Ok
7 Good
8 Very Good
9 Great
10 A Must See

Star Trek: Picard Season One: 8/10